40 under 40

David Lubell credit Welcoming AmericaCristina Jimenez credit United We DreamAlicia Garza credit  Rosalux-nyc.orgOpal Tometi credit Rosalux-nyc.org

Grantees in this story

The Chronicle of Philanthropy released its 40 Under 40 issue this January— a salute to young leaders in the nonprofit world who are tackling problems with bold new approaches. Four of the featured leaders are Carnegie Corporation of New York grantees —through the Four Freedoms Fund, the Corporation, or both.

Most agree that their generation of leaders is breaking new ground.  “There is a willingness to try different approaches that may have seemed unacceptable in the past,” says David Lubell, 39, founder and executive director of Welcoming America, “I still think of myself as a social justice leader, but in the past a social justice advocate might have been less likely to work with the business communities.”  Today, Lubell is eager to collaborate. “We can leverage what the business community has to offer, what all sorts of different partners have to offer, and we are not afraid to do that,” he says.  Welcoming America works closely with 65 communities across the country to advocate for local policies and programs that enable immigrants and longtime residents alike to contribute to the community’s success.

Cristina Jimenez, co-founder and managing director of United We Dream, believes the honorees all share courage and a gift for innovation, “We have shaken up the conversation in a way that has not been done before, and therefore created a momentum, and excitement, and very significant change.” But change takes time. It took years of organizing and persistent work to get very real results, says Jimenez. United We Dream was launched in 2008 by undocumented, immigrant college students. By June, 2012 their campaign had successfully pushed President Obama to grant temporary relief from deportation through Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).

Other movements may appear to erupt in a flash, like Black Lives Matter. But in reality, Black Lives Matter was built by three smart and strategic leaders.  Alicia Garza, 34, the special projects director of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, wrote “Black Lives Matter,” on her Facebook page in the summer of 2012, in anger and frustration after George Zimmerman was acquitted. Her friend, Patrisse Cullors, 32, an artist and organizer turned it into a hashtag. Opal Tometi, 31, the executive director of the Black Alliance for Just Immigration saw the power of that hashtag and began building a social media infrastructure to demand criminal justice reform. Garza says one reason their movement has built momentum is because it is not led by one charismatic straight man. It has diverse leaders including many black, gay women. 

Jimenez says that more and more young leaders see strength in diversity, a good thing in a country that will soon have a majority of people of color. Still, she says, they are “confronted by a deeper level of inequality than many of the generations that came before us: in the education system, and in the criminal justice system...Not only black folks or brown folks, but also immigrants who continue to be criminalized by the current laws.” Jimenez says, “What makes me hopeful is that many of us not only have a shared vision for change, and for justice, but also a shared analysis and many opportunities to work together and take on some very big challenges.”

Lubell says his work is made more difficult by global instability and fear. “We live in a world that is so interconnected—events that happen far away affect us, and it feels like there are a lot of things that are out of our control.” Lubell thinks we are currently confronting an elevated sense of fear and disorder, “and some of the politics are beginning to show this, and that’s a challenge that is particularly poignant right now.” Welcoming America is not holding out for federal help. “It is very much a bottom-up, local community approach,” says Lubell, “We don’t have a Congress that can tackle difficult challenges right now, so more people like me are focusing on the local level.”

The introduction to this special edition of the Chronicle of Philanthropy notes that “Andrew Carnegie, considered one of the great innovators of modern philanthropy, was 76 when he started his pioneering private foundation in 1911.” While Carnegie was, indeed, older than 40 when he set up his foundation, his philanthropic career began around 1870 when he was 35, and his philosophy about how wealth should be allocated was forming even earlier. He believed that those who triumphed over adversity were “the epochmakers;” people who were possessed of extraordinary will and indomitable spirit. These forty young leaders are, indeed, the “epochmakers” of 2016.

Gail Ablow is a Visiting Media Fellow at Carnegie Corporation of New York. Gail has been a leading documentary and investigative producer for ABC News, Bill Moyers and PBS, CNN, and CNBC.  Most recently, as a producer for Moyers & Co., she covered money and politics, economics and inequality, public participation in democracy, the criminal justice system, and explorations of contemporary culture on multiple platforms, including TV, web, and radio. The opinions expressed here are those of the author and contributors, not necessarily of the Corporation.